Buying gifts for the pastry fanatic you know isn't particularly hard: As with a purchase for a cook of any kind, you'll want to consider utility and necessity first, after which you can turn to the more whimsical and fun. If you know someone who's just starting out on their baking adventures, spring for some basic items that they might not know they need. Even a basic rimmed baking sheet can be a very thoughtful gift, if it's one that your budding baker doesn't own yet (they really should own at least one, probably two or more). If your giftee is an old hand at pastry, try an upgrade like a high-quality vanilla extract.
We've got way more than a baker's dozen of gift suggestions for you, but here, we'll take the opportunity to highlight some of our favorites.
BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts
One of the many advantages of giving Stella's cookbook, BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts, as a gift is that it's easy to tell if the intended recipient has it or not. If they do, you'll probably already have seen on Instagram their uncannily accurate homemade Nutter Butters and their DIY "Twinkies" filled with tres leches. Or they'll have surprised you with an erudite explanation of how Oreos got their name. Filled with fascinating histories that honor the American tradition of dessert-making, along with tons of irresistible recipes you won't find on Serious Eats, BraveTart is literally the best gift for bakers (providing they don't already have it).
Anodized Aluminum Baking Pans
A lot of bakers we know tend to use what they've got when it comes to equipment. While the recipe might specifically call for an anodized aluminum brownie or cake pan, as is the case in many of Stella's recipes, including her brownies and some of her cakes, some cooks might be tempted to use the non-anodized aluminum versions they have on hand. That would be a mistake.
Anodized aluminum pans are valuable because they are nonreactive, and therefore they can be used for acidic recipes like Stella's blackberry cake and lemon bars. If you choose to bake those bars or that cake in a normal aluminum pan, the appearance will be off, but more importantly, so will the flavor—a result of the aluminum reacting with the acidic ingredients. The brownie pan Stella recommends also has a convenient removable bottom, and the cake pans are extra deep, which makes them perfect for messy baking projects that tend to bubble up in the oven, like sticky buns. A set of these pans would make a great gift for longtime bakers (sometimes we need a push to break out of our old habits), but they'd also be perfect for new bakers or people who are outfitting a new kitchen.
The Right Stand Mixer
This one is a no-brainer. You can make cakes and cookies and other delicious sweet treats without a stand mixer, but you'd need pretty buff arms and a whole lot of patience to get most of those recipes to work. Just the act of giving a generous gift like a stand mixer means you're going all out, and the recipient can't help but appreciate it—it's like presenting someone with a flashy car. But choose wisely, because there are lemons out there. We recommend this KitchenAid Professional Series model because it has metal gears, which are sturdy enough to last a long, long time. (We do not, for example, recommend the KitchenAid Artisan, whose gears are plastic and more fragile.)
A Food Processor That Works
Food processors are incredibly useful for all kinds of cooks, but for bakers especially, they can be an absolute necessity—some techniques, like the one Stella uses to create highly stable fruit-flavored whipped cream, can't be made without one. While our review of food processors identified a few of the best machines on the market, our overall favorite was this 14-cup Magimix. That may not be a familiar brand name to many people, but it's got a mighty fine pedigree—it's the prosumer line from Robot Coupe, which makes the restaurant-industry standard in food processors.
A Nice Cake Stand
Something that's not entirely necessary, but nevertheless very useful is a nice-looking cake stand. We love any of the colorful options from Le Creuset, but for a novice, a revolving stand might be the more practical choice—it'll be a huge help when they're learning how to crumb-coat. Either way, giving a cake stand is a safe-ish bet that you'll be treated to a homemade cake in the near-ish future.
Large Piping Tips
While piping tips are often considered exclusively for pastry projects, these tips are large enough to be put to a variety of non-baking uses, like filling up deviled eggs and packing buttery baked potato flesh back into its jacket. Of course, your giftee will find plenty of dessert-related purposes for these, too: dispensing whipped cream, piping cupcake frosting, portioning out chocolate mousse, you name it.
A Cast Iron Combo Cooker
This piece of equipment is for the committed bread baker, someone who packs sourdough starter in their carry-on before plane trips or unveils beautiful boules at the office while not-so-surreptitiously picking away at specks of dried dough on their sweater. Thanks to the superlative heat-retention powers of cast iron, this cooker gets hot and stays that way. Meanwhile, the tight-fitting lid creates a little sauna for the bread, trapping in steam to help produce the kind of crackly crust that once seemed possible only in a professional oven.
A Bowl Scraper
Sure, it's not super sexy or grand, but a bowl scraper is an affordable stocking stuffer that any bread baker will love and use constantly. In his ode to bowl scrapers, Tim Chin describes how this little piece of plastic will help you maneuver and cut your bread dough with ease. And even if you're not baking, it can be used for scooping up ingredients on your cutting board, scraping doughs out of mixing bowls, for cleaning up flour in a pinch, and pushing purees through a sieve. Tim has even used it as a bookmark. A bookmark!
A Fluted Pastry Wheel
A fluted pastry wheel is more than just a unitasker. Sure, it's a no-brainer for making ravioli, but it's also handy for creating beautiful lattice-topped pies. We like this wheel in particular because it has a wide metal wheel and exaggerated zig-zag design that will provide lots of definition that won't disappear when your dough starts to puff in the oven.
Better Dutch Cocoa Powder
Stella spent quite a bit of time trying out a variety of cocoas in her boxed brownie mix, and she drew up a list of some brands that she can personally vouch for. But her go-to Dutch cocoa for a long time has been Cacao Barry Extra Brute, and you'd be hard pressed to find a baker who wouldn't appreciate a couple bags of this stuff. You also have the option of picking a few of the other cocoas on Stella's list, which will allow you to give your baker a range of cocoas to play with.
More Fun Ingredients!
If you'd like to inspire your giftee with some exciting new ingredients to expand their pantry, we'll happily direct you to our guide to essential pantry goods for bakers. Sure, some of it's standard, like baking soda and baking powder, but you'll also find Stella's recommendations for excellent baking chocolate and a host of extracts and flavorings to give new life to traditional baked goods. Pick up a few, put them in a basket, and wrap them with a bow. It's an inexpensive way to treat your quarantining baker to something extra special (and delicious).
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